Heroic DDT Defender Dies

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Entomologist J. Gordon Edwards who for decades defended the use of the insecticide DDT to protect human beings from diseases like malaria has died at age 85. Millions of people have died of insect-borne illnesses since DDT was banned in 1972 to protect raptors from eggshell thinning. As the Fox News article points out, Dr. Edwards lived long enough to see some opponents of DDT like the New York Times' editorial page change into supporters. Thanks in part to Dr. Edwards' unflagging efforts, we can hope that millions in the future may soon be once again protected by this safe and cheap insecticide. RIP, Dr. Edwards.

Link thanks to David Ridgely.

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  1. Thanks for clearing up that this is not a tribal/religious issue for you joe.

  2. Mr Bailey —

    I agree with you that Edwards deserves a nice obituary. Where I take issue is the point that there’s anyone out there fighting against this viewpoint. I don’t know any mainstream environmental groups that are fighting against localized use of DDT.

    This was an oversight the first time around. And there are two reasons not to use the stuff agriculturally. It’s a long-term poison that builds up in the ecosystem. And pests have a particularly easy time building up immunity when it’s applied in a blanket.

    Note that anopheles is on the list. This kind of makes the whole issue moot. DDT-resistant malarial mosquitoes are already out there. It’s just a matter of time until the stuff is completely worthless.

  3. It would be good to see an advocate that recognized the benefits of DDT use in extreme cases AND the harm from widespread use, and worked on balancing the competing interests.

    Still waiting.

  4. Hi Joe: At the risk of being self-congratulatory and self-promoting, could I suggest that my article on eggshell thinning (hyperlinked in the blog) is a stab in the direction of the “balance” you seek? Using DDT for disease protection (not farming or distribution in the outside environment) is very unlikely to harm even the most sensitive bird species. Opposition to DDT in certain quarters of the environmentalist movement has almost the force of a religious taboo.

  5. Have millions died because of the so-called disuse of DDT? Bailey is trying to set up a causal connection here without demonstrating it. Indeed, even the South Africa experience demonstrates that plenty of folks die from malaria even DDT is used – in part its because of issues like resistance and the far more virulent strains of malaria that inhabit the continent of Africa. Successful eradication of malaria in Africa will never be done exclusively by DDT as Bailey appears to imply; you’re going to have to eradicate the mosquito breeding grounds, etc. before that will happen.

    joe,

    You’re right; for both sides its a religion.

  6. Ron Bailey,

    And the mantra of DDT use also has the force of religious conviction for many who see it as the “only” solution.

  7. And no, I don’t oppose DDT use for mosquito eradication; however, notion that it is either a panacea or the greatest evil created by man gets a bit nauseating after a while.

  8. Also, Ronald Bailey is wrong to state that DDT production was banned in 1972; indeed, under FIFRA its production continued in the U.S. for sale overseas well into the 1990s.

  9. The reason for the ignorance on the part of most individuals regarding the use and purported dangers of DDT is the misinformation bandied about by the media, e.g. when Molly Ivins (who far as I know is not a scientist) says that Tom Delay is a complete lunatic for favoring the use of DDT in certain cases. Environmental rhetoric has taken on religious overtones–those heretics who disagree must be banished.

  10. Gentlemen:

    First, of course, poor people in Africa and elsewhere will still die of malaria even after DDT is re-introduced–they don’t have screens in their windows, they spend more time outside, animal reservoirs of the parasite are still available for re-infection and so forth. Nevertheless, take a look at South African malaria data at URL: http://www.malaria.org.za/Malaria_Risk/Update/update.html. You will find a steep decline in malaria cases coincides with the reintroduction of DDT. It is simply undeniable that DDT is a very valuable tool for controlling malaria.

    Gary, who used the word panacea?

  11. Ron Bailey,

    Your original write-up does not reflect your newly chastened attitude.

  12. Ron Bailey,

    Malaria Cases in KwaZulu-Natal have decreased to less than 3 500 for the 2001/2002 malaria season from over 40 000 for the 1999/ 2000 season. This is thought to be partly a result of the re-introduction of DDT spraying and the change of the first-line treatment to co-artemether in some areas, as well as a regional approach to malaria control in the Lubombo SDI.

  13. Gary: So DDT helped reduce malaria in South Africa just as advertised. Remember, no panaceas.

  14. And no quasi-religious taboos.

  15. And no quasi-religious taboos.

  16. Yet DDT, the very insecticide that eradicated malaria in developed nations, has been essentially deactivated as a malaria-control tool today.

    Certainly, the possible harm from DDT is vastly outweighed by its ability to save children’s lives.

    From the cited April 11, 2004 NYT article; “What the World Needs Now Is DDT” :

    http://mitosyfraudes.8k.com/Pesti/DDTNow.html

  17. Question(s) for Ron Bailey. What do you think of this web page:

    http://www.junkscience.com/ddtfaq.htm#ref6

    Many of the references seem to refer to eggshell thinning of poultry, which you’ve already addressed. But there are also references like those associated with #43:

    Krantz WC. 1970 (No correlation between shell-thinning and pesticide residues in eggs) Pesticide Monitoring J 4(3): 136-141; Postupalsky, S. 1971. Canadian Wildlife Service manuscript, April 8, 1971 (No correlation between shell-thinning and DDE in eggs of bald eagles and cormorants); Anon. 1970. Oregon State University Health Sciences Conference, Annual report, p. 94. (Lowest DDT residues associated with thinnest shells in Cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk and goshawk); Claus G and K Bolander. 1977.

    Also, what about #45:

    Egg shells of red-tailed hawks were reported to be six percent thicker during years of heavy DDT usage than just before DDT use began. Golden eagle egg shells were 5 percent thicker than those produced before DDT use.

    [Hickey, JJ and DW Anderson. 1968. Science 162: 271-273]

    And how about the other substances that could have been responsible?

    Lead has been associated with egg shell thinning.

    [Bellrose, RC. 1959. Ill Nat Hist Survey Bull 27:235-288 (Lead poisoning in wildlife)]
    Mercury has been associated with egg shell thinning.

    [D’Itri, FM & PB Trost. 1970. International Conference on Mercury Contamination, Ann Arbor, September 30, 1070; Scott, JL et al. 1975. Effects of PCBs, DDT and mercury upon egg production, hatch ability and shell quality. Poultry Sci 54:3350-368; Stoewssand, GS et al.. 1971. Shell- thinning in quail fed mercuric chloride. Science 173:1030-1031; Tucker, RK. 1971. Utah Science June 1971:47-49 (Effects of many chemicals on shell thickness).; Tucker, RK & HA Haegle. 1970. Bull Environ Contamin Toxicol 5:191-194]

    …I’m particularly interested in your thoughts about lead, because leaded gasoline started being phased out circa 1975, which is pretty darn close to the same time as DDT.

    Best wishes,
    Mark Bahner

  18. I’m sure part of the reaction to ddt came from the absolutely moronic marketing, and totally irresponsible use of the crap in America.

    I remember these surreal 1950’s ads with dancing agriculutural products singing a strange jingle “DDT is GOOD FOR ME!” Were these people on acid, or what?

  19. What we have just witnessed here, kids, is Gunnels and Joe trying to fight what they call a “rear guard action,” i.e., they’ve been clearly defeated by Bailey and the overwhelming data on DDT and malaria prevention. So they must bring up some (at best) ambiguous statistically insignificant data about South Africa to let their main forces escape before being slaughtered.

    The tactic is also known as “appearing as if you’re leading the parade when they run you out of town.”

    Please, guys, that liberal sacred cow that Carson birthed is dead as Dillinger…move on…it’s unseemly.

  20. uh huh, snake, we’ll be seeing the stuff in Ace Hardware any day now. Sure we will.

    The most optimistic outcome for the pro-DDT side is that a tiny exemption to the overall movement to ban it will be carved out. If anything, the modest and nuanced claims in Bailey’s article, so at odds with his usual fire and brimstone denunciations of environmental movements, demonstate the acceptance of the overall ban, and the need to accept a tiny fraction of a loaf.

  21. God the jizzing in this blog entry is so great that one would think were talking about a man who stood up to Nazi guards to save Jews or something. While there is probably a middle road to this debate, as there always to everything, one has to wonder whether it was just chosen to again negatively portray those modern day Nazi’s who dare deny corporation profits, environmentalists.

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